Cuban artist Michel Mirabal showcases new paintings from Aspen residency |

Cuban artist Michel Mirabal showcases new paintings from Aspen residency

Michel Mirabal working on a painting from his new "Sunflower" series, inspired by the Aspen summer scenery during his residency here.
Courtesy photo |

If You Go …

What: Michel Mirabal art exhibition

Where: Aspen Art Gallery

When: Opening reception, Saturday, June 24, 7 p.m.

More info:

Cuban artist Michel Mirabal is painting in the U.S. for the first time during an Aspen residency.

The Havana-based artist — who made international headlines two years ago when the new U.S. embassy opened in Cuba with a Mirabal painting as its most prominent decoration — has been working at a local private home this month. The Aspen Art Gallery is displaying the fresh paintings and hosting Mirabal for an opening reception Saturday evening.

Mirabal creates sculptural paintings that use non-traditional materials like rice, bullets, keys and barbed wire. He is best known for his series of flag paintings that recreate the Cuban and American flags in chunky drips of paint and clusters of glued materials on wood. He incorporates emotionally charged objects like bullets and barbed wire, he said, to speak to the historically fraught relationship between Cuba and the U.S.

He improbably made his way to Aspen after meeting Aspen Art Gallery owner Damien Guillot in Havana this spring. The local gallerist, looking for Cuban artists on a tour, fell in love with Mirabal’s work. This summer, Mirabal has been working out of a palatial home near the base of Aspen Highlands. The home’s owner, an avid art collector and Aspen Art Gallery client, opened the house to Mirabal and his two assistants to allow the artist the opportunity to make art on U.S. soil for the first time.

It’s been a productive stretch. Mirabal and his assistants have been working from dawn to dusk and have finished more than a dozen new pieces.

In the garage at the Highlands house on a recent morning, Mirabal pointed out a work-in-progress — he calls it “the most important work that I’ll make here” — that responds to the current uncertainty in U.S.-Cuba relations. It uses combinations of keys and bullets for the stars in the flags, representing the choice for the Trump administration to keep the door open (the keys) or turn back to the bitter conflict of the past (the bullets).

The dark space between the two flags is bordered in barbed wire, which Mirabal said represents the Cuban people stuck in the middle of this power struggle.

“It’s a battle between governments and in the middle are the people who are most affected by this situation,” Mirabal said.

In the recent work, Mirabal has used newspapers to underscore the dramatic swings in U.S.-Cuba policy. He pastes papers as a background for his flags. One, from the day of President Donald Trump’s caustic speech in Miami earlier this month promising to reverse Barack Obama’s policy to end diplomatic relations with Cuba, includes pages from both the Miami Herald and the Cuban newspaper Granma.

“You see the Miami Herald writing about the broken relationship and you see the response from Cuba,” he said.

Of particular interest to Aspenites will be a handful of new works that make use of the local newspapers. He’s taken pages from recent issues of this paper, The Denver Post and the Aspen Daily News for the background of a diptych of the Cuban and American flags.

The natural beauty of the Colorado high country also inspired a surprising and vibrant new series from Mirabal. Dedicated to his girlfriend back in Havana, the series creates large sunflowers in bold and bright yellow, made from glued bunches of local flowers and pieces of rice, bullets and barbed wire.

“This amazing place has given me inspiration to create a new series for her,” he said.

Mirabal recalled growing up in Havana and tuning in to radio stations from Key West to hear the latest American pop music. He said his discovery of American artists like Jackson Pollock and Andy Warhol as a young man inspired him to make art his life.

In 2015, he donated a massive painting of the Cuban and American flags — titled “My New Friend” — to the U.S. embassy in Havana. President Obama was photographed in front of it when he addressed the media there during his historic visit in March 2016.

The current occupant of the White House also owns a Mirabal piece. Donald Trump bought one from a New York gallery in the mid-2000s.

Though Mirabal’s never before made art in America, he is no stranger to the U.S. He is represented by galleries in New York and Miami and has been visiting them since 2009 (he began applying for visas in the mid-1990s, but was denied until his acclaimed artwork gave him some clout). He estimates that about half of his collectors are in the U.S.

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